Release Date: November 20, 2014
Label: Neptoon Records
Johnny de Courcy is an enigma, of sorts. The Vancouver singer/musician is a self-styled throwback to the gender bending, flamboyant days of the early ’70s. However, despite expectations, the music on ‘Alien Lake’ is not trashy. It’s not emotions in caricature. It is actually earnest. And poignant to boot.
With a sci-fi title like ‘Alien Lake’ you might be thinking Ziggy Stardust, but the album opens up with a song that’s more akin to another ’70s icon – Al Stewart. WTF, you say. I kid you not. Granted, we are talking an alternate Al Stewart who is kicking a heroin addiction and is launching a solo career to get away from his acid rock band past. And that bouncy rock/pop feel is pervasive on the record, although it is tempered with a balancing dose of heavy electric guitar, an approach that is perhaps best exemplified on “Jeff”, which is part garage pop and part freak out hard rock.
There are some gorgeous moments here, to be sure, such as the ballad “Lady in Red” and the country-tinged “Amelie”. Arguably, most touching of all is the break-up song “Wind Chimes”, which deftly avoids cliché with both emotional and lyrical depth (“alive and well/around the prison grounds/you lose the shield/but gain the sword you found“).
On the title track Johnny tickles the ivories for a good three minutes. In anyone else’s hands the childlike meandering would come off as agonizingly self-indulgent. But, hey, it’s Johnny, so you can’t help but be enamoured by its plaintive simplicity. Not that de Courcy is above being indulgent (consider the tempo-challenged “Turkish Freakout”) but it is always good-natured and therefore forgivable. Even when he cheekily lifts the riff from Heart’s “Barracuda”, he acknowledges it at the song’s end with a wink.
Despite the ’70s references, and the fact that the record simply sounds decades old, this is far from pastiche. It is not as if de Courcy is trying to recreate something you’ve heard from the ’70s. It’s more as if he went to back 1973 and said, “Hey guys, I’m gonna play something totally new.” It would sound unfamiliar to them then, and it only sounds vaguely familiar to us now.